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Just got home after a massive day at #asc2010. Though I’m exhausted I’m feeling too excited to sleep, so instead I’ll give you my blow by blow account of the conference.

Welcome session
The day opened with a welcome from an Aboriginal elder who was not at all interested in science (actually, she said she hated it in school), but was nonetheless entertaining and welcoming. Later the minister did the “official” opening of the conference and also unveiled a new report on science communication policy called Inspiring Australia, which is in my bag to be tackled in all the free time I have. After opening the conference, he left, which was a shame. Guess he’s a busy man.

Plenary session #1
What is a plenary anyway? This was a panel discussion on the challenges for science communication with speakers from some major organisations, the NHMRC (National Health Medical Research Centre), the ARC (Australian Research Centre) and CSIRO. On the whole, it was great to hear from directors and managers from those kind of organisations, but a lot of it was beyond me… We talked a lot on what we SHOULD be doing for science communication strategically, but it seemed to lack that follow through of funding and prioritisation that you need in a business. Eh. It was definitely interesting, but not terribly relevant.

Described in the program as “the future of science reporting” I was really disappointed to find the session only heard from print media reporters… sure, it was interesting to hear their ideas about the future of magazines and newsletters, but the future of science reporting encompasses radio, television, blogs and STACKS more than print media. Plus one of the speakers actually said that newspapers were more reliable and accurate then blogs. Uh huh. Sure. Newspapers are accurate eh? Have you heard about Bad Science? And you think blogs are inaccurate? Have you even TRIED reading The Loom and Not Exactly Rocket Science? I’m sorry, but if you think blogs are bad and newspapers are good, you’re living in the past and it’s time to update.

Session Three – Denialists, sceptics and quackery
The panel included the president of the Australian Skeptics. It was described in the program as TACKLING these kind of viewpoints. Damn it if we didn’t just describe the damn problem in a self-rightous way! Yes, I KNOW homeopathy, chiropractics and the anti-vaccine lobbyists say some whacko stuff and have a scary amount of followers, but how do we REACH those believers and talk to them about the actual science? I’m already aware of the problems, I want to talk about solutions, and sadly we barely hit the very tippy top of the iceberg in this session. I’d like to come back to that idea later in this blog while I’m still in swashbuckling scientist mode.

Session Four – Freelancing
“Be a media slut until you can get paid!” No… I actually found this professional development session really worthwhile. Their “get published anyway you can” approach was, I think, good advice to someone starting out. I am certainly keen to start writing for anyone and everyone to garner up a folio of clippings! Ideas included writing for a uni newsletter, contributing to refereed websites, writing for local newsletters, and getting involved with community TV and radio. Yep, I can do that.

Session Five – Determining Junk Science
Our speaker was like Ben Goldacre for peer reviewed journals. OMG the things he said were scary! Over 50% of published journals mess up their statistics or do not explain their error bars! That’s just bad science! Worse than that, a basic knowledge of Poisson distribution should show reviewers when results have been fudged, because the given standard distribution is insanely narrow for the cell counts they are doing. Worst of all are the western blots, who under pretty rudimentary scrutiny by increasing contrast are shown to be cut and pasted, in some cases duplicated or mirror images used later on – basically results completely fabricated and falsified to create results that are flawed in their flawlessness. This session was an eye-opener, and it was good to remember the old stats homework and find some use for them.

Overall though, a conference is about networking, and I met some great people who are doing fantastic things with science communication. If you met me at the conference and scored a business card (yes, I have those now!) then it was lovely to meet you. It was also great to hang out with the gang from the RiAus, who were my SciComm pals in bonny Adelaide and are still doing some amazing things there. Wish I could attend the conference Tuesday and Wednesday, but sadly study calls and I must answer the siren song of commitment.